Posted on Sun, Feb 1, 2015
February 1, 2015
4th Sunday after Epiphany
Gospel Text: Mark 1:21-28 “Heed the Prophet”
The Man with an Unclean Spirit
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ 26 And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
It is early in Jesus’ ministry and he is preaching in Capernaum. Capernaum is northeast of Nazareth, both cities located in a mostly Jewish region around the Sea of Galilee. http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/capernaum
Did you notice how simple this text is written? No theological insight, or nuance. Mark simply simple says where Jesus is, who he is with, what he is doing or saying, and the people’s response… and then he moves on. Like Martin Luther himself, we are left wondering, “What does this mean?” and more importantly, “what does it mean for me as a Child of God,” or “us as the Body of Christ?”
Right from the beginning Mark tells us the reaction of the people to Jesus’ teaching. We don’t know what Jesus was saying prior to verse 22, but “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” What does Mark mean, that Jesus taught “as one having authority?” What was different about Jesus’ teaching compared with the teaching of the scribes? What is different about Jesus’ teaching that the people proclaim, ‘Jesus’ teaching has authority?’ We will come back to this point.
Jesus has no history with this synagogue that we know of, he does not appeal to precedent and he speaks without the benefit of tradition. You could call it, “unauthorized speaking,” which could be very dangerous from the outset.
And it appears, that from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and it as with most “Truth Tellers,” there would be confrontation.
Jesus, the one proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand, is in a holy place at a holy time. Jesus teaches with “authority,” and suddenly a man possessed with an “unclean” spirit immediately confronts him. The unclean spirit is in a holy place on a holy day, where it ought not to be… Notice, as with all exorcisms, the diseased man does not ask for help. He is helpless and completely under the influence of the unclean spirit. It is the spirit that identifies Jesus as a threat: ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’
As with other exorcisms, the spirits, even if they are unclean or evil, know the truth about Jesus, and they recognize Jesus as the “Son of the Most High God.” But I wonder, why is a man, possessed by evil spirits, even ‘IN’ a holy place? Some say that, “if there is anywhere the devil wants to do mischief, the best place is within the church.” Mmmmm.
Before Jesus entered this sanctuary to worship or pray, Jesus did something the people witnessed and they “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Maybe for this reason was he invited to speak or teach in the synagogue, or did Jesus just go there to worship and pray. The only thing we see is that the confrontation occurred in the synagogue, and the evil spirit, not the people around Jesus, recognized Jesus as the Son of the Most High God, and that the evil spirits knew that they were doomed!
It was not the proper time in Jesus’ ministry for the people to know Jesus’ real identity so Jesus rebukes the evil spirit saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’
At that moment, the man was freed from this evil spirit. It appears to have been a painful experience for the man, but that also seems like the pattern for exorcism, or any of us being freed from an evil addiction, habit, selfishness, an unhealthy relationship, toxic workplace or living condition, or whatever we think holds us and binds us.
Before there is freedom from evil, there must be confession. There must be the realization that we are helpless on our own and then it is important to name, or CONFESS, of evil entity that possesses us. And then we also need to name the One who has the power to free us. Then we need to allow the power of Absolution to empower us to let the evil go! It is important to name a caregiver, a higher power, or as I would proclaim, the Power and Authority of our Savior and Redeemer, “Jesus.”
One of the most powerful moments in the worship is our Confession of Sin. There is a reason why it is written out and there is a reason we speak it out audibly as One Body. The confession speaks to our brokenness in a complete way. If you read the words carefully, with a mirror on our on our hearts, and a mirror on your words and actions throughout the previous week, it will address issues we are too afraid to speak of AS OUR OWN SINS AND BROKENNESS. There is comfort, freedom and courage in speaking honestly about our brokenness as a community of broken, yet faithful people. I think it is the time we show our humanity in the most honest and truthful way every week.
There is no room for PRIDE when we confess our sins. Pride only wants to cover the very sins and hurts we want to hide from each other, and even our Savior. Why is that? Why are we afraid to be honest with God? Why does it take a place of worship to help us say what we must say, IN ORDER FOR US TO BE FREED THROUGH THE PROMISE OF ABSOLUTION?
What makes worship so different and essential in our lives is this is a holy place where we are safe to confess the truth that we are broken, BUT we also take the power of the Gospel to heart, proclaiming the truth the Jesus has authority over our brokenness and God has to power to free us from those powers that wish to possess and snare us. NO WONDER THIS PLACE IS CALLED A “SANCTUARY!”
The people acknowledged that Jesus’ words had authority, unlike the scribes. I don’t know what the scribes taught in the synagogues, but the heart of Jesus’ teaching was Love AND Grace! God is COMPLETE, love, mercy, justice and joy. So when Jesus taught, they experienced God’s love, mercy, justice and joy face to face with the Most High God. I can’t imagine how amazing their experience must have been.
But just as love is also a serious topic that illuminates those things that bind us, possess us, and cut us off from a life of faith, Jesus teaching must have had lifted up the basic teachings of the Old Testament of what it means to live as the People of God. Jesus would confront evil and injustice and all things that cut us down or tempt us away from our relationship with the Living God. Of course there had to be confrontation… people are rebellious. If the people are to be recognized as the People of God we must heed the scriptures and tend to the needs of “the widow, stranger and the orphan.” Mercy, justice and compassion would be preached, and this powerful message of love would go to the heart of all those listening.
Jesus’ words have real power and authority. The Gospel confronts all our troubles and the evil powers that blind us, confuse us, cuts us down, dehumanizes us, and makes us into the people we were not meant to be, alone and thinking we had everything in control just by our own power and means. But the Gospel has authority confront our blindness and arrogance and gives us the power to forgive our sins, restore our hope, bless us with joy and courage, kindle dreams and creativity, and most of all, makes us Children of God, united with the God of all the cosmos.
Hear the Gospel! For in the Gospel, you are made free and blessed to be a blessing, the People of God! Amen.
The synagogue built upon the synagogue Jesus preached in Capernaum
You can see the foundation of the synagogue where Jesus was in today’s Gospel.
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